Proclaiming at the advent of his administration that under his incumbency his government would be the greenest ever, David Cameron’s assertions aroused both optimism and scepticism back in 2010. Depending on your political orientation, and equally your attention to detail, that optimism might now have transgressed into gleeful political cannon fodder. Words became policy, and the endorsement of his environmental legacy will be vital for Cameron’s re-election campaign. Conversely that scepticism could have now translated into anger or frustration, not least encouraged by Cameron’s “rolling back the green crap” gaff from 2013.
But now five years on, how exactly does Cameron’s green legacy stand in the face of the bold proclamations made in 2010? Perhaps the following two areas best illustrate the dichotomous relationship between Cameron and the environment, beginning first with the governments Green Investment Bank (GIB), for which you’ll be hearing much of before Election Day on May 7th.
One of the more commendable projects created by this government, the GIB is an organisation that invests in green, UK based infrastructure projects, the proliferation of renewable energy technologies, and larger shares in clean energy generation. Capitalised with an initial fund of £3.8 billion the bank uses public funding to invest primarily in three sectors; offshore wind energy, energy efficiency, and waste and bioenergy.
The investments this bank makes and the improvement of the UKs green infrastructure are efforts that Cameron hopes will mobilise communities and the private sector to begin vigorously investing in our green revolution. However, the government’s actions abroad portray a conflict of interest not only for the citizens of the UK, but importantly the overseas investors, who might feel dissuaded by the foreign investment from UK Export Finance (UKEF).
Whilst this department traditionally provides insurance to British exporters it too has been busy assuring energy security and the vitality of energy infrastructure. In spite of the government’s commitment for UKEF to invest in the growth and exporting of green technology, the Guardian found that they have disproportionately invested in fossil fuel projects over green ones, by some 300 times. Their global financial support for green projects amounts to some £3.6 million, whilst this administration’s support for fossil fuel operations has seen a more exorbitant investment of £1.13 billion.
UKEF provides this investment in the form of loans to British companies for the acquisition of trade and production deals with foreign hydrocarbon companies, standing in great contrast to the sentiments espoused by Cameron in 2010. Considering how paramount investment in green infrastructure is by the private sector, such actions seem slightly contradictory, a kind of do as I say, not as I do, scenario.
This private investment really is paramount however, as by the GIB’s own admission our green economy must boast some £330 billion in capital to meet our legally binding environmental targets by 2020. We are currently seeing less than half of the required investment needed.
Cameron’s inability to effectively read market signals is one factor that will also taint his environmental legacy. Solar power is fast becoming a vibrant, ubiquitous and economical power source. With an average annual growth rate of 50 percent over the last six years, and the cost of raw materials plummeting, the net costs of solar panels have fallen by 80% since 2005.
Surely then any rational economic actor would invest vigorously in solar power like China, the US, and Japan? Well, according to the Final Report for the GIB Policy and Framework Context of 2011 the answer is no, claiming that “no large scale investments are likely” in Solar PV.
When listening to the political rhetoric this election campaign remain vigilant for the voices that claim Cameron’s environmental policy has invested billions into our clean energy future. It’s important to recognise the good foundations set by this government, but also this government’s other investments, and the missed opportunities inhibiting the growth of our green economy. If David Cameron is re-elected, or whoever is the next voted into government, there is so much more we can do as a nation.
By Jack Longman, Junior Writer for Daily Political View.